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In the early part of this century, South Africa had a reputation — a well-deserved one, at that — for being one of the most violent, crime-ridden nations on the planet.  A BBC article from 2002 quoted two guide books discussing the crime rate in Johannesburg: one guide noted that “violent crime is rampant” while the other another warned the reader that the city had “lots of guns.”  At the time, the murder rate in South Africa hit 59 per 100,000, roughly ten times that of the United States’ (6 per 100,000).  It was a scary place to be.

The crime rate has improved somewhat, but in a nation where, officially, one quarter of the population is unemployed and a large percentage of the population lives on a wage equivalent to roughly one U.S. dollar per day, poverty is still rampant and many downtrodden turn to crime.  In Pretoria, the nation’s administrative and de facto capital city, some are taking an odd and illegal step to compete with their fellow downtrodden man: beggars are renting babies and using them as props in order to garner sympathy and, they hope, more (and larger) donations.

The baby-rental process is not, however, initiated by parents looking to make a buck.  (Thankfully?)  Rather, corrupt day care centers are behind the deed, loaning out the children to vagabonds — unbeknownst to the parents.  Officials suspect that a more formal and nefarious crime syndicate is behind the program, and caution parents only to entrust their children’s care to government licensed child care providers.  In light of the above, that is probably a good idea.

Bonus fact: South Africa has multiple capital cities — three, in fact, while no other nation has more than two.  Pretoria, home to 2.3 million people, is where the executive branch sits and therefore is often considered the de facto capital — most foreign embassies are situated there.  Cape Town, where the legislature sits, is the largest of the three, with nearly 3.5 million residents.  Bloemfontein, the smallest of the three (at a mere 370,000) holds the judicial branch.  The largest city?  None of the above.  It’s Johannesburg, with a population nearing 4 million.

Related: “Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa” by Martin Meredith; 13 reviews, 5 stars.

Originally published

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